Larry Smith’s Mingo Town & Memories

In “Mingo Town & Memories,” Larry Smith has compiled some of his best work from past books along with new pieces to paint the perfect elegy of not only a place, but the lives lived in that particular place during a particular time. Smith mixes genres here by including traditional poetry along with short prose pieces. Sometimes, the town is given a voice. Sometimes the river, depicted clearly as the heart of the town, is also allowed to speak. Smith shows it from several different perspectives. One of my favorite poems is “The River.”

The River

And we went down
boys and girls together
in our school clothes
along the smelly creek
all the way to the river.
Brambles and stones
beneath our feet,
we passed rails and mill gates.
And there we stood
looking out in silence
at the great river
too wide to swim across
though some might have tried
and drowned too young.
And our teacher stepped in
allowing her skirt to rise
to her hips like a cloud
with her inside, and
lifting her arms she beckoned
one by one to her side
where she blessed aloud
our baptism, not to God,
but to the waters,
and we the fish
that lived inside
and it inside of us,
“Forever and forever,”
she simply said,
“You are one.”
And some laughed for joy
and some bowed their heads
and cried.

The idea of work is central in these poems. And if the river is the heart of this town, then the work and workers are the town’s lifeblood. In “Delivering Papers” Smith recalls that early job of his, the people on his route, the extra jobs he took along the way each morning. Rather than being too sentimental, the poem is a vehicle for showing how this job, one of the first a young boy could get and therefore lowly in one sense, made him a king in another sense. More so, a sense of belonging emerges in the poem, a sense that encapsulates the drive for much of this collection: “I would survey the town as dawning light / spread along the streets, on houses and trees, / down to the mill’s steaming cauldrons and rails / and I would know somehow, I owned this town, and / what’s more this town owned me.”

Some of the poems that resonate the most with me are the ones where Smith writes about his father. In “Cutting Down the Maple in My Father’s Yard” Smith writes, “I’ve come to love his act of work, the surest thing I know.” In shifting from the town to this personal relationship, Smith simultaneously connects all the dots. The love Smith has for his town is no more diminished than the love he has for his father throughout their respective dying.

But if not diminished, everything is still changed. Even the sense of belonging felt in “Delivering Papers” evaporates into something else. In “Hometown Immigrant—2020” Smith writes, “What I write of this place / lives in memory now, / like an old love affair or divorce.” And therein lies the heat in this work: the friction between what was and what is and the ever-shifting distance between the two.

You can listen to Smith read some poems from the book here:

You can purchase your own copy of “Mingo Town & Memories” here:


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